Pat's Product Review: Ruger Mini-14

Monday, Jun 27, 2011

I have literally lost count over the years, as to how many Ruger Mini-14s I've owned - however, I think it's safe to say, I've probably owned a couple dozen Mini-14s. No, I don't collect them, but I've owned quite a few of 'em since they first came on the scene. At present, ironically, I don't own a Mini-14. But I do keep notes on how guns shoot when I did own them - it comes with the turf being a gun writer.

One of the gals who regularly reads Survivalblog, e-mailed me a couple weeks ago, and asked me to write about the Ruger Mini-14. I'm happy to give my two-cents worth. And, remember, when it comes to firearms, it's a pretty subjective thing. I've giving you my take on guns, after being a gun owner for more than 40-yrs and a gun writer for close to 20-years. Still, you are getting my opinion and nothing more. I really like the Mini-14, I think they are a fun gun to shoot. They are light-weight, most weighing in around 6.5-lbs to 7-lbs, depending on which model you choose and the density of the stock's wood. They are also a handy rifle to carry in your pick-up truck, and I've seen a lot of farmers and ranchers with Mini-14s in the rifle rack of their trucks. When it comes to shooting varmints, the Mini-14 is a mighty fine gun to have around, to be sure.

There have been quite a few iterations of the Mini-14 over the years, and I've lost track of how many different versions have been made. For the purpose of this article, we'll keep the discussion down to the standard and Ranch rifle versions of the Mini-14, and in .223 Remington/5.56mm calibers. The Mini-14s I've owned have either been the standard version or the Ranch Rifle version. The Ranch Rifle comes with rings for mounting a scope, and it has a fold-down rear sight. Therein is one of the problems I've had with the Ranch rifles - the rear sights have all been extremely fragile and break - I've lost count of the number of rear sights I've replaced on the Ranch Rifles I've owned over the years.

I prefer the standard version of the Mini-14 over the Ranch Rifle. I don't mind the "iron" sights in the least - they are quite functional and easy to use. The 18.5" and 16.5" factory barrels on the Mini are more than adequate for their intended purpose, too. However, I like to see a heavier barrel and better bedding on the standard versions of the Mini - just because I think they can do better in the accuracy department. Every Mini I've owned over the years was 4 MOA, at best. While, this may be good enough for combat at close range, I think Ruger can do better and really close those groups up quite a bit. Because of the accuracy issue, I don't think the Mini is useful much beyond 200 yards in a combat/survival scenario.

The early Mini-14s had steel butt plates, the newer ones have a plastic butt plate. And, the versions with synthetic stocks have a rubber butt plate, which really hugs the shoulder when you get it up to shoot - I like that. Also, the early Mini-14s had an upper forearm that was made of wood - which would get extremely hot when doing a lot of rapid-fire. The new Minis all have a plastic upper forearms, that allow for rapid cooling during rapid-fire.

I like the M1 Garand-style action on the Ruger Mini-14. It's a minimally-fouling piston system, that I've never seen fail on any Mini. I also like the Garand style safety - inside the trigger guard - where you can push it off safe, and onto fire in a split second. make no mistake, the Mini-14 is a very reliable little shooter. Where I've run into problems with the Mini is, when I've used cheap, after-market magazines. The Mini-14 comes with a 5 round magazine. This is fine for hunting. But for self-defense and survival purposes, you need either a 20 or preferably a 30 round magazine. Until recently, you simply couldn't buy Ruger-made 20 or 30 round magazines - they were restricted (by Ruger) to law enforcement sales only. [JWR Adds: Thankfully, that bit of political correctness faded away after Bill Ruger passed away.] The good news is that, Ruger is now selling their 20 and 30 round magazines to the public, and they are outstanding mags, to be sure. The only complaint I have is that they retail for $39.95 for 20 rounders and $49.95 for 30 rounders. That's spendy, no matter how you look at it.

Over the years, there have been a lot of after-market 20 and 30 round magazines for the Mini-14. Sad to say, most were simply junk! And, most of the after-market Mini magazines I've run across don't even have the makers name stamped on them. I surmise they were too ashamed to let people know they were making such cruddy magazines. Some of the worst Mini magazines I've run across were either USA brand or Federal Ordnance brand. Steer clear of most aftermarket magazines! And, you can easily spot those magazines - they aren't well heat-treated, and you can easily bend the feed lips with your fingers - not a good thing. Remember, if you don't have reliable magazines for any semi-auto firearm, you basically have a hard-to-load single-shot gun - just that simple. [JWR Adds: When buying magazines for any gun that you might someday use for self defense, procure only top quality magazines. Do not put you life at risk by saving few dollars on "bargain" magazines!]

I used to pick up like-new Mini-14s at gun shows for $150 - $250 each. Sad to say, those days are long gone. A used Mini-14 will set you back around $500 - $600 these days, at least here in Oregon. Furthermore, brand-new Mini-14s start around $750 and go up to almost $1,000 today. I have a problem with that - for that kind of money, I can go out and purchase some type of AR-15 style rifle. Now, don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with the Mini, that can't be corrected. However, if I were shopping around for a survival rifle, that had to save my bacon, I'd rather go with some type of AR over the Mini-14. [JWR Adds: I concur. Parts availability and an accuracy dictate that!]

Another problem that comes with owning a Mini-14 is spare parts. Have you ever tried to get a simple firing pin from Ruger? Can't be done, you have to send the rifle in to Ruger and they'll fit it. I'm not aware of anyone making an after-market firing pin for the Mini. Some parts can be purchased from Ruger, or after-market makers. However, I really like the idea of having a spare firing pin for my semi-auto rifles, and this isn't a problem with ARs - you can get 'em at any one of a dozen after-market makers or even directly from the factory. Now, with that said, I've never had a firing pin break in any Mini-14 I've ever owned.

The Ruger Mini-14 is easy to operate, too - just load-up a mag, insert it in the gun and draw back the slide handle and chamber a round. And, if you happen to have some kind of malfunction, it's easier to clear than one on in an AR. The Mini is also easier to clean than an AR is - and that's a good thing.

If I were looking to purchase some kind of .223 Rem/5.56mm rifle for the end of the world, survival purposes or "whatever" may come my way, then I'd pick-up an AR of some type over a Mini-14. However, whenever I run across an Mini-14 that is priced "right" I'm a sucker and will snap it up. The Mini-14 is a lot of fun to shoot and they handle nicely, too. Many females prefer the Mini over an AR. I think that black guns intimidate gals for some reason. Maybe it's the "evil" look of an AR, and maybe it's because the Mini handles better in the hands of someone who isn't all that experienced with pistol grip rifles.

Don't take what I'm saying as a strong criticism of the Ruger Mini-14, as I said, I really like the Mini, and if my local gun shop had one in decent shape, that was priced right, I'd buy it today. I'd also take a Mini-14 over an M1 Carbine any day of the week. While I know there are a lot of military vets who served with the M1 Carbine, it's just doesn't have the knock-down power that the .223 Remington/5.56mm round has. The Mini-14 is a lot of fun, when it's all said and done. And, if you happen to run across a good deal on a Mini-14, pick it up. You can always use it to help supplement your battery. You can give it to someone who isn't all that familiar with firearms in an end of the world scenario and you don't have to spend a lot of time explaining how the gun operates - as opposed to an AR-15.

You can do a lot worse than a Mini-14, and if they are to your liking, I have no problem with that. Ruger makes good guns - just that simple. However, I think there is room for improvement on the Mini-14, and the accuracy is one area that I'd like to see some closer attention paid by Ruger. I also think that Ruger could do better on the price of their 20 and 30 round factory Mini-14 magazines.

So, if you have a Mini-14, or are looking to purchase one, then have at it. They are a lot of fun. - SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio

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